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Sport Frustration grows as USC's offense struggles during scrimmage

07:05  13 august  2017
07:05  13 august  2017 Source:   latimes.com

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The scene repeated itself over and over on Saturday, when USC ran a 70-play scrimmage . The defense looked scary. The offense looked ugly. Darnold would run three plays, rip off his chinstrap and run straight to the sideline, the frustration growing increasingly evident even for the usually

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LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15: USC Trojans Head Coach Clay Helton leads the team out to the USC spring football game on April 15, 2017, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA.© Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15: USC Trojans Head Coach Clay Helton leads the team out to the USC spring football game on April 15, 2017, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. Sam Darnold ripped off his chinstrap and jogged straight to the sideline. A few minutes later, he jogged straight to the sideline again. He ripped off his chinstrap with a little more force. A few minutes after that: same thing, this chinstrap ripped with even more vigor.

The scene repeated itself over and over on Saturday, when USC ran a 70-play scrimmage. The defense looked scary. The offense looked ugly. Darnold would run three plays, rip off his chinstrap and run straight to the sideline, the frustration growing increasingly evident even for the usually unflappable quarterback.

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Defense looks ahead of the USC offense following a 75-play scrimmage on Monday. The offense struggled , especially early, and neither Max Browne nor Sam Darnold was particularly sharp while splitting reps at quarterback.

USC held an angry scrimmage Saturday afternoon. OK, maybe the players were not upset. But Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian was clearly frustrated after the defense dominated the offense throughout the day. Remember, Kessler threw three interceptions in USC ’ s first scrimmage .

The Trojans' first-team offense ran eight drives. They had one first down, one interception and six three-and-outs.

One of those three-and-outs actually resulted in a safety, but for the sake of extra repetitions, USC lined back up for a third down anyway. That attempt, too, failed.

Afterward, coach Clay Helton said the defense played "lights out" but added, "it was good to see the reality today."

The reality is, USC's offense could not move the ball. The running game found little space. Darnold threw erratically - one pass air-mailed his target by several feet. The secondary manhandled his pass catchers.

The absence of tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who has been sidelined because of an injured hip flexor, neutered USC's tight-end game, and USC's receivers found little space. Several Darnold passes were placed well, but his target had been forced off his route.

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It may have taken four weeks, but on Saturday USC Football saw signs of life from the quarterbacks and an offense which has struggled throughout Spring Camp. Fink went 7-of-8 during the scrimmage , not counting a long attempt he lobbed up on a free offsides play.

The offense scored six times, including five rushing touchdowns, and moved the ball more effectively overall than they did a week ago, as the South Carolina football team held its second scrimmage of the preseason camp on a muggy Saturday morning in Columbia.

USC's lone touchdown came during a red-zone period, when Ronald Jones punched in a short run. In the same period, a pass with too much loft facilitated a one-handed interception by Ajene Harris. A mushy route by Deontay Burnett didn't help.

It is not unusual for the defense to dominate the first scrimmages of training camp. The offensive playbook is typically more sophisticated and provides a steeper learning curve. During a game week, coaches typically whittle down the playbook to a more manageable size.

"Once we get into playbook mode and that whole bible becomes just one specific game plan, I think it's gonna help them a bunch," Helton said.

And the Trojans' defense is indeed experienced, with a front seven capable of owning the line of scrimmage. "I thought they came with an attitude," Helton said.

Helton said outside linebackers Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu were "phenomenal" and cornerback Iman Marshall "had probably his best practice of camp."

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USC quarterback Aaron Corp stands in the pocket during USC ' s scrimmage Saturday at the Coliseum. The offense , on the other hand, probably struggled a little more than expected with nine starters returning.

They won't lack for a topic of conversation after the Bruins' scrimmage Saturday. The Bruins are going to be able to "run the ball or die trying," Coach Rick Neuheisel has preached all during camp. The first-team offense had 19 yards rushing in 25 attempts, according to unofficial statistics.

But Saturday's scrimmage raised several concerns, the same ones that have lingered since the offseason: Can the receivers, without JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, get open for Darnold? Can the line open holes for running back Ronald Jones II?

"Obviously we've got a lot of work to do," Helton said.

Kicking woes continue

The volume on both sidelines dropped about midway through the field-goal portion of the scrimmage. By the end of it, USC's players had gone quiet.

Everyone was watching the kickers. Neither could hit with any consistency.

Mike Brown made two of six attempts, his two successful tries about 40 yards and from about 45 yards. Chase McGrath made one of three, from about 40 yards.

"It was not a very good outing by either one," Helton said. "We've got a lot of work to be able to do, just being honest there."

Brown and McGrath have each had better days during training camp. But the outlook was bleak enough that Helton broached the idea of a more aggressive fourth-down approach.

Faced with a fourth down and four yards to go, or a long field goal, Helton said USC may have to opt to go for it.

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LOS ANGELES — Asked his impressions of USC ’ s young quarterbacks following a situational scrimmage Saturday Wearing a USC hat along with a USC windbreaker and carrying a notepad, Daniels followed the quarterbacks during various Kaufman grew up in beautiful downtown Burbank.

Helton said he believed USC ’ s offense would also improve in time as it grew healthier. Young USC QBs frustrate Clay Helton in scrimmage . USC ’ s Christian Rector on the move again with Porter Gustin back in ‘predator’ position.

"If it doesn't improve," he added.

Quick hits

Imatorbhebhe ran without a setback this week. Helton said he hopes to have him within the next one to two weeks. ... Running back Aca'Cedric Ware sprained his shoulder. Helton does not expect him to miss significant time.

zach.helfand@latimes.com

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

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